France’s President Sarkozy has paid a lightning visit to Lebanon, urging its often warring parties to seal their retreat from civil war. Sarkozy was accompanied by all France’s main political parties, a show of unity designed to inspire the same in Lebanon.
The long-delayed election of President Michel Suleiman last month followed the worst factional fighting since 1990. But Lebanon’s political parties have since failed to agree a government of national unity. Senior figures from all Lebanon’s parties, including Syrian-backed Hizbollah, joined the two presidents for lunch. Sarkozy told them Lebanon’s future must be based on openness and dialogue.
“Every country has the right to its independence,” he said. “For what reason should Lebanon not enjoy the same right? Such a state deserves, and must uphold, respect, respect for freedom for all. France and the whole of Europe is ready to help you achieve that.”
Lebanon has often been at the mercy of its powerful neighbours, Israel and Syria. France is strengthening its ties with Damascus, which is widely blamed for the assassination three years ago of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Anger at his murder ultimately forced Syrian troops to pull out and leave. Even so, Syria remains a key player in Lebanon’s future.